John Eastman: From California lawyer to Trump true believer

John Eastman: From California lawyer to Trump true believer

The theme of the third congressional listening to on the Jan. 6 riot was unmistakable:

The theme of the third congressional listening to on the Jan. 6 riot was unmistakable: John Eastman was not only a peripheral determine within the panel’s investigation, however a important character. If Eastman was tuning in, although, the proceedings could have struck him as one thing else — a bizarro episode of “This Is Your Life.”

On the dais was the panel’s vice chair, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, with whom he attended College of Chicago Regulation Faculty. One other alum, Greg Jacob, was on the witness desk, detailing Eastman’s relentless makes an attempt to steer Jacob’s boss on the time, Vice President Mike Pence, to unilaterally block the counting of the electoral votes that might cement Joe Biden’s victory.

Providing testimony at Jacob’s facet was retired federal Decide J. Michael Luttig, a foundational determine in Eastman’s early authorized life. Eastman’s clerkship with Luttig led to but extra long-standing friendships — with Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz and Supreme Court docket Justice Clarence Thomas and his spouse, Ginni — which might be fodder within the investigation.

Past happenstance or the clubbiness of conservative politics, the important thing figures, establishments and ideologies of Eastman’s life have converged within the Jan. 6 hearings to a exceptional diploma. An evaluation of Eastman’s profile within the practically 40 years earlier than he turned President Trump’s lawyer, together with interviews with greater than a dozen associates and associates, reveal how Eastman’s seemingly sudden notoriety was many years within the making.

Collectively, they paint an image of a person with an insider’s connections and an outsider’s boundary-pushing instincts; a person who poured his appreciable mind right into a political philosophy that, in more and more dire phrases, sees a rustic drifting from its core values.

The Eastman described by his longtime associates is a genial and beneficiant absent-minded professor kind. A film buff and a prankster. A religious Catholic and a Deadhead.

He’s additionally, after the June 16 listening to, an individual condemned by his onetime mentor Luttig, who stated beneath oath and on tv that Trump and his allies — and by implication, Eastman — are “a transparent and current hazard to democracy.”


In a colorless Buena Park resort ballroom one night in March, Eastman warned a captivated viewers of conservative activists that the nation’s “authoritarian second” had arrived. He blamed the standard Trump nemeses — election directors in battleground states, Democrats, disloyal Republicans, the media. (Eastman and his legal professional initially agreed to an interview for this story, however in the end didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark.)

Threaded into the speech — a fact-checker’s nightmare, premised on insinuations, cherry-picked figures and discredited sources — had been ruptures that hit nearer to dwelling. The Orange County Register, which had editorialized towards him after years of quoting him as a trusted supply. Chapman College, the place he taught legislation for greater than 20 years earlier than a post-Jan. 6 uproar led to his retirement. Now he was wiped off the school listing web site.

His supply was droll, and his viewers laughed. However his biting tone when these native establishments got here up underscored the truth that the life Eastman constructed over many years in Southern California had palpably modified.

Eastman, 62, moved west after school, drawn to review at Claremont Graduate Faculty, the house of influential conservative thinker Harry Jaffa.

Jaffa, a scholar on Abraham Lincoln, is finest recognized for coining the long-lasting strains in Sen. Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Republican Nationwide Conference speech that “extremism in protection of liberty isn’t any vice” and “moderation within the pursuit of justice isn’t any advantage.”

The phrase fed the sense that Goldwater was too excessive, contributing to his landslide presidential loss. However the strains laid down a marker for a brand new motion of unstinting conservatism and made Claremont a magnet for Jaffa’s acolytes.

For conservatives, Claremont was “the beacon,” stated Terry Hallmark, a former classmate of Eastman’s who now teaches philosophy on the College of Houston. “Since you may very well be snug pondering what you thought and hanging out with those that had been of like-mindedness with out being attacked.”

Claremont college students revered America’s founding, and noticed ethical relativism and an more and more highly effective authorities paperwork as existential threats.

“We thought there have been so many issues which have decayed, from our standpoint, within the character of the republic,” stated Steven Hayward, a former roommate of Eastman’s at Claremont, now a conservative creator and blogger.

Whereas in graduate faculty, Eastman met his future spouse, Elizabeth, a fellow doctoral scholar. He additionally began working on the close by Claremont Institute, a assume tank based by 4 of Jaffa’s college students that’s unaffiliated with the college and would develop into Eastman’s practically lifelong mental {and professional} dwelling.

After legislation faculty and stints in Washington, he returned to California. He litigated on behalf of conservative causes from his perch working a authorized middle on the Claremont Institute, and have become a legislation professor at Chapman College, serving for a time because the legislation faculty’s dean.

He introduced in high-profile conservatives reminiscent of Thomas, and invited his good friend John Yoo, a former lawyer in George W. Bush’s administration and a tenured professor at UC Berkeley, to come back educate, providing Yoo a break from blowback over his involvement with what got here to be referred to as the torture memos.

As conservatives in a principally liberal authorized educational world, “you settle for you’re going to be in a job the place you’re within the minority,” Yoo stated. “Perhaps that makes you slightly … used to being within the dissent.”

Eastman maintained his hyperlinks to the conservative authorized institution, actively collaborating within the influential conservative judicial community the Federalist Society and main its observe group on separation of powers. However he additionally had an iconoclastic streak, reminiscent of his long-held place that the 14th Modification doesn’t assure citizenship to folks born to noncitizens on U.S. soil.

The interpretation, broadly rejected by most authorized specialists, got here into broader public view in the course of the 2020 election, when he wrote an article asserting that Kamala Harris, the Oakland-born youngster of immigrants, was not eligible to be vp. However to previous associates reminiscent of Hayward, the argument was classic Eastman.

“He’s totally fearless about taking over typical knowledge,” Hayward stated.

Eastman debated that stance, amongst many others, with Erwin Chemerinsky, who was his amiable liberal sparring accomplice on the radio for 15 years, beneath the moniker “The Sensible Guys.”

“The enchantment of it was we may debate very controversial points, however all the time in a really civil means,” stated Chemerinsky, dean of UC Berkeley Regulation.

Some who encountered Eastman as a political campaigner, nonetheless, discovered him to be much less upstanding.

In an underdog bid for California legal professional basic in 2010, Eastman sought a poll designation of “assistant legal professional basic” to spice up his odds. The catch: It was primarily based on his work on a single case in South Dakota. A choose quickly rebuffed his try.

It’s hardly uncommon for candidates to attempt to pull off poll title chicanery. However Kevin Spillane, marketing campaign supervisor for Steve Cooley, the eventual GOP nominee, stated Eastman’s strikes undercut his status as a revered authorized authority.

“When he engaged in such a dishonest and outrageous effort to primarily deceive voters, that tells you every thing you have to learn about his character,” Spillane stated.

Round that point, Eastman turned a public face of the Nationwide Group for Marriage, a gaggle that promoted 2008’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California. He led the group‘s years-long battle to maintain its donor checklist non-public, which resulted in a string of courtroom losses and fines for violating state disclosure legal guidelines.

John Eastman testifying on Capitol Hill.

As chairman of the Nationwide Group for Marriage, John Eastman pushed to maintain its funders secret and sued the IRS when a donor checklist was leaked.

(Charles Dharapak / Related Press)

Fred Karger, a homosexual Republican activist who doggedly sought the group’s monetary data, stated he noticed a sample in Eastman’s actions then and within the present congressional investigation.

“He has a historical past of mendacity and undermining our election legal guidelines as finest he can,” Karger stated.


With Eastman undeniably central to the Jan. 6 investigation, the folks in his orbit are grappling with how a lot he ought to stay of their lives.

Chemerinsky publicly urged the State Bar of California to research Eastman, which it started doing this spring, and he determined to by no means share billing with Eastman once more.

His final radio look with Eastman, in October 2020, nonetheless disturbed him greater than a yr later.

“It was the primary time I ever debated him the place he wasn’t civil. I felt like I used to be debating Donald Trump,” Chemerinsky stated.

Jeremy Rosen, a Los Angeles appellate lawyer and fellow Federalist Society member, stated he additionally seen a gradual shift, predating Trump, in his onetime good friend.

“He went from being extra of a cheerful warrior to an indignant warrior over time,” stated Rosen, who instantly after the Jan. 6 assault urged the Federalist Society to take away Eastman from management and public occasions. In Eastman, he noticed an emblem of the growing anger within the nation’s politics total.

However others haven’t saved their distance. Ryan P. Williams, president of the Claremont Institute, lauded Eastman on Twitter as “a patriot involved in regards to the oligarchic corruption of America.” (Williams didn’t reply to requests for remark.)

Eastman stays a senior fellow on the institute, which, after many years on the geographical and mental fringes of the appropriate, discovered new prominence in the course of the Trump years. The assume tank’s embrace of upheaval and disaster as essential to usher in America’s renewal aligned neatly with the norms-busting president.

“Claremonsters,” as they name themselves, use apocalyptic rhetoric to convey the staggering stakes, as they see them, or to at the least get folks’s consideration.

That cataclysmic viewpoint spilled into the Jan. 6 hearings, when former White Home lawyer Eric Herschmann stated in a deposition that he had warned Eastman his scheme to have the vp invalidate the election would “trigger riots within the streets.”

“And [Eastman] stated phrases to the impact of, ‘There was violence within the historical past of our nation, Eric, to guard the democracy or defend the republic,” Herschmann stated.

Eastman was so dedicated to this line of pondering that he continued to hunt avenues to overturn Trump’s loss, even within the instant aftermath of the assault on the U.S. Capitol. He unsuccessfully sought a pardon from Trump and now finds himself doubtlessly in legal jeopardy.

“Sadly, he drank the Kool-Assist that President Trump was promoting — that the election was a fraud,” Yoo stated.

However again in that resort ballroom in Buena Park, Eastman confirmed no indicators of second-guessing.

“My previous professor used to say, if you happen to’re not catching incoming flak, meaning you’re not over the goal,” he informed his viewers. “Properly, women and gents, I believe I’ve been instantly over the goal for fairly a while.”

The conservative activists, with prolonged applause and hearty laughter, signaled they agreed.